The Elton John songbook brings out the sparkle in most of the top 11

By Annie Barrett
Updated March 31, 2011 at 08:39 AM EDT

American Idol

S10 E22
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Welcome back to American Idol. It’s Elton John week, and Ryan has awkwardly short comb-over bangs. So not Don Draper. So not fetch. Keep dreaming, Seacrest!

Gotta say, I appreciated how narrow the theme was this week. My my, isn’t that Elton looking mighty thin lately? I liked hearing songs I knew very well in a more coherent jumble than usual. Sometimes the random song selections of broader theme weeks come together as a playlist you’d force yourself to listen to until you completed some treacherous task, like cleaning your bathroom, or paying your obscene cable bill, or shopping online until you found the same pre-Memorial Day white pants as Steven Tyler. Plus, I could always use a reminder of how amazing Elton John is. So talented. A true artist. Wise. Iconic. Fashionable. Knighted.

AGGGGGGGGH! It’s Entertainment Weekly‘s Dalton Ross! Talk about opposites. How’s that for a cruel slap in the face, right when I’d decided maybe I could feel the love tonight? Dalton just sidled right up to my rose-colored Elton John costume glasses and shattered them, like breaking wind in the presence of a candle. My Inside TV Podcast partner in crime, now in video format? Insanity. He evens speaks! “We’re doing a fancy-shmancy photo spread,” he said while wearing a tie. This esteemed colleague of mine could have tripled his screen time had he agreed to shave Casey’s beard. Alas, the office prince of ’80s ski sweaters is not that quick on his feet.

Scotty McCreery got lucky. The American Idol producers were able to go back in time and have Elton John record a country song so Scotty would have something to sing. I’m joking. “Country Comfort” is real. The low-note ending somehow wasn’t as charming as it had been last week, and I wish he’d picked an Elton song people knew and made it country rather than taking Elton’s one country song and going with that. Then again, who else would choose Elton’s country song? There can’t be that many more Elton John nights left. Who knows how long this ol’ world’s going to be around? So Scotty gets a few points for taking that risk and for going first. He filled in the little circles to spell his name on the SAT. Good for him. But let’s be honest, this week all Scotty had to do was basically say “Hi, my grandmother is in the audience” for the judges to act like he was a superstar.

Naima Adedapo whipped out the Jamaican accent she’s been hiding somewhere in a deep, dark secret compartment of last week’s silver flared pants and put a reggae spin on “I’m Still Standing.” I disagreed with J. Lo and thought this song was a fine choice to complement Naima’s swagger. Why not this song, anyway? It was an interesting re-arrangement — a little repetitive on the chorus, but she can bop around the stage like she’s not about to fall over, so good for her. Some of the contestants are so aware of the camera that they forget to treat the show like an actual concert. Naima comes across as a very different artist week to week, but at least she’s not predictable. And how often do designers get to customize a halter lady suit with Rasta colors? Speaking of crazy semiformalwear…..

NEXT: Randy attempts to break his own Sit & Reach record for StefanoPaul McDonald remembered to water his bedazzled rose suit for Elton John night. The hoarse whisperer got to clutch his security guitar during “Rocket Man” and nearly reverted to a scared child (or very creepy parent) during his final, barely spoken notes. Ewww, bedtime stories with Paul. “And I think you’re gonna sleep a long, long time…” [voice trails off as does a child into the abyss….] Paul practiced “quiet comfort” during the rest of the song and didn’t make it too crazy with background singers or an overwhelming band. Those cameras have been zooming in mighty close to these people’s faces lately, by the way. Too close? Discuss. I agreed with Randy that Paul could have let loose a little more. That jacket alone gave him plenty of liberty. You can do anything in that jacket. I’d give the entire dollar menu away for free if that jacket staggered into my drive-thru.

Pia Toscano blatantly disregarded Randy’s orders to not do another ballad and sang the ballad “Don’t Let the Sun Go Down on Me.” Whatever, Randy, Jimmy Iovine told her to do it. It may not have been uptempo enough for Randy, but Pia was much more energetic tonight and really filled that stage. It’s amazing what a backup choir and a few steps forward can do for a balladeer. Pia’s outfit this week corroborated a theory Kristen Baldwin and I have: that the Idol stylists have until now totally been getting off on the withholding of Pia’s hotness from America. Remember the white jumpsuit where clouds go to die? Ancient history. This week, they swathed Pia in a bejeweled second skin not once but twice — first at the Entertainment Weekly photo shoot (go ahead and listen to Dalton Ross salivate over Pia’s unbelievable red dress in this behind-the-scenes video), and last night with a nearly sheer Britney Spears glittersuit. Go, girl. It’s Brittany, bitch. From Glee. In the audience.

Stefano Langone threw a strange accent into his rendition of “Tiny Dancer,” coming up with new and exciting words like ballerino and leen-in (linen). Like last week, I didn’t get the impression that Stefano really understood the song, and his facial expressions of intense and panicked capital-F Feeling especially weren’t cutting it last night. Counting the headlights on the highway is really not as traumatizing as Stefano made it look. But this segment was mostly about the Reach.

God’s right hand lazily extended towards Adam. Their fingers touched as God awakened his human creation: an incredibly large clay sculpture of Randy Jackson’s head. I wish. Wrong week. Too little too late, my little chocolate chunk cookie.

NEXT: The boy who played with product placement and fire

Lauren Alaina put only a slight country spin on “Candle in the Wind,” and it was all in her own twang and lilts, really. No surprises, nothing dramatic. This was a nice, pretty rendition of a classic Elton John song from a country singer. Randy called it, for him, “one of the greatest Lauren Alaina performances on this stage.” I like how Randy goes for the sweeping superlative and then its range gets narrower and narrower by the word. “You can do anything,” he continued. One thing Lauren could do right then was fawn over each of the judges from the stage, seemingly out of nowhere! Basically, this segment had almost as much intramural product placement for American Idol as this recap does for EW. Ewwwww(.com).

James Durbin, who just has zero respect for the equipment, turned “Saturday Night’s Alright for Fighting” into a fantasy sequence from the wildest dreams of a budding arsonist with training wheels on his motorcycle. A flaming piano, really? Who does this guy think he is, Lady Gaga? Elton John? Oh. It was crazy, but the vocal was decent enough. What a spectacle — and not just visually! The Durbs told Ryan that the amount of hairspray in his ridiculous hair made him fear he’d have a “Pepsi Moment,” which referred to Michael Jackson’s accidental second-degree scalp burns during the filming of a 1984 Pepsi commercial. Oh, Durbs. Durbs, Durbs, Durbs. It’s one thing to make light of MJ’s misfortune, but calling out the direct competitor of a well-known sponsor of the show? How dare you. That was just uncalled for.

“Daniel” was a good choice for 16 year-old Thia Megia, as the producers were able to help her construct a personal connection to the lyrics. Jimmy Iovine warned her before she sang that she was going to go home, and I believe it. Thia’s voice is lovely and so is she, but she is just the opposite of captivating up there and during the telecast at least, this song seemed to last forever. Later on, I listened to her performance online and liked the vocal on its own much, much better than the total Thia Megia experience. I still don’t have a good impression of what this girl is all about, other than the fact that she has an older brother whose name is not Daniel.

NEXT: Casey, Haley, and Jacob Lusk’s Peanuts galleryCasey Abrams transformed from an unraveling beast into a sophisticated, kindly ginger with a controlled thicket of a beard last night, and even has a photo of himself with that species’ leader, Jesse Tyler Ferguson, to prove it. His starry night version of “Your Song” didn’t change my mind about Casey either way. I liked that he didn’t get up and act crazy, but it wasn’t my favorite vocal from him. Yo. Yo. I’m sorry for sounding like Randy just then. This was a safe maneuver from Casey on the week after his big save. Steven Tyler, who has hilariously become the king of low standards (probably without even realizing it), told Casey he could have just sung the last two notes of the song. This came shortly after he told Paul McDonald that it was cool to mess up some of the notes. Stay tuned for next week, when Steven will jauntily scold Lauren Alaina for even showing up.

I love how right before Jacob Lusk‘s performance, Jimmy Iovine was begging no drama no drama no drama and then BAM! Fog machine. Jacob took on “Sorry Seems to Be the Hardest Word” with his usual pulsating vibrato. Tricky was his producer, but Mary J. Blige was the real inspiration for Jacob, and it helped that she was “ironically” in “the back of the room.” I believe the subtitles for this big reveal said “I’m terribly sorry. Mary J. Blige is in the background.” That is just always happening. Anyway, I guess I can see Jacob selling records within his niche, but it really has become visually jarring to watch him. His ecstasy looks like agony, for better or worse.

On the bright side, I’ve finally figured out who Jacob Lusk keeps channeling. Duh.

It’s like Lucy pulls away the football every night before he sings. It’s a sad, sad situation and it’s gettin’ more and more absurd. I did, however, appreciate how Jacob didn’t even feel the need to finish the word word at the end. Why bother? Oh, the pain!

Pimp spot. Yes! Haley Reinhart with the breakout Idol moment! Our bluesy beauty, who looked all dressed up for some sort of sexy Wednesday night mass, writhed around on the piano to begin “Bennie and the Jets.” I may be alone here but I think she could have spent the whole song perched up there trying out different leg placements. Play around a little with the arrangement, you know? I love that Haley is not self-conscious onstage — she’s just in her own little world and you are very welcome to join her if you too like fictional ’70s bands, flowers, and freedom. I dug the drawn-out hissing noise after “Jets.” I liked Haley so much, in fact, that I was even excited to see her clip during the post-performance wrap-up.

But I was mostly just excited to see this face again.

‘Til tomorrow, friends.

You know I read it in a magazine, Ohhhhhhhhhh…Eh-eh-eh-Entertainment Weekly….


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Read more:

On the scene for the Top 11 (take 2) performance night: What you didn’t see on TV

‘Idol’ coaches talk the Top 11 taking on Elton John

Behind the scenes at EW’s photo shoot!

All ‘Idol’ on-the-scene reports

All ‘American Idol’ recaps’s ‘American Idol’ Central

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